Waves Nx

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We look at the science behind Waves’ new 3D audio plugin, Nx: Ocean Way Nashville.

We don’t listen in 2D. Thanks to millions of years of evolution, our ears are able to detect sound in three dimensions. We use this to locate objects, determine the distance to a sound source, and more. Of course, we also make use of this when we listen to speakers. We aren’t just hearing the music. We’re hearing it within the space the speakers occupy – the room and everything in it. All of this is lost, however, when we put on a pair of headphones. It reduces the sound to a two-dimensional plane within our heads. This method of listening can have its advantages but mixing is not one of them. How then, can we effectively mix on headphones?

One solution is 3D audio and Waves’ Nx series of applications and plugins, including the just-released Nx: Ocean Way Nashville. A 3D recreation of the famous Nashville, Tennessee recording studio, Nx: Ocean Way Nashville models the acoustic experience of being in the studio control room. It specifically reproduces the control room’s acoustics as well as the studio’s custom Ocean Way Audio monitors. Heady stuff. Let’s see if we can get behind what’s happening.

Virtual Listening – What Is 3D Audio?

Essentially, 3D audio manipulates sound so that the listener feels as if they were present in a three-dimensional space. With Waves’ Nx technology, this applies strictly to listening on headphones. It convinces the brain that it’s hearing sounds all around even though these sounds are only coming from headphones.

There are many applications for 3D audio as presented by Waves Nx, including gaming, movies, navigation, and virtual conferences. The company even sells headphones with the Nx technology embedded inside. However, we’re going to be focusing on the use of Nx as a mixing plugin in a DAW.

Nx Technology – What Does It Do?

As Waves explains, “Today’s entertainment is on a mission to recreate the real world. Just as VR makes us feel like we are walking in a 3D environment, 3D audio recreates real-world sound in a way that surrounds you with the music, the movie or the game”. Or the music studio. Nx technology can use the headphones you already have to accomplish this.

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Many producers are reliant on mixing largely through headphones. Because of proximity to other residents, home studios may not allow producers to listen at full volume. Musicians and DJs are often on the road as well and have no choice but to work on music on headphones. This is less than ideal, as many elements are lost this way.

For one, spatial imaging problems can occur when the sound is being piped directly into our ears. When listening to speakers in three-dimensional space, we get channel crosstalk, with each ear hearing not only the sound from the closest speaker but also that from the other. This allows us to perceive the sound in 3D, rather than in insolation per ear.

Another issue is filtering and delays. The frequency response of the sound is affected by the shape of our ears and head and the angle at which it enters the ear. There is also a slight delay created when the sound wave reaches one eardrum before the other. This is lost when listening to headphones.

Early reflections also play a part. You may have heard this term in reference to reverbs. Early reflections are the echo of a signal created by sound waves bouncing around an enclosed space. We hear these early reflections along with the original sound itself. The brain uses these echoes to determine the source of a sound and the dimensions of the listening space.

Lastly, all of the above are affected by the motion of our heads. After all, we aren’t statues. We are often in motion when listening, even if just a tiny bit.

Nx technology addresses all of these issues by placing the listener into a virtual three-dimensional space. By capturing impulse responses, Waves can create an aural map of a room. Additionally, the sonic footprint of monitors and other sound-output technology can be measured and recreated, allowing you to feel as if you were listening to a certain set of monitors in a certain control room. Place the plugin on your master bus after any effects and Nx will transform the audio into 3D.

There are three Waves mixing plugins so far that use the Nx technology.

  • Nx – The original. Nx creates an ‘ideal’ room for mixing through headphones.
  • Nx: Abbey Road Studio 3 – Recreates the acoustic environment of the Abbey Road Studios 3 control room.
  • Nx: Ocean Way Nashville – The most recent. Ocean Way Nashville models the control rooms of Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studios.

Nx: Ocean Way Nashville – Sound Worship

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Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studios opened in 1996. Beyonce, Beck, and Donna Summer are just some of the artists who have recorded there. One of the most striking aspects of the studio is the renovated church tracking room in Studio A. Talk about sound worship. Used for recording orchestras for film scores and video games, it’s an exceptional room, spacious and high ceilinged. The adjacent control room and its custom monitors are also the stuff of legend, and they have been modelled in Nx: Ocean Way Nashville under the supervision of studio founder Allen Sides.

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By making use of recorded impulse responses captured in the control room, the plugin models the physical space in three dimensions. This rectifies the loss of channel crosstalk you get when just listening through headphones. Likewise, filtering and delay are allowed to occur as the sound waves reach your ears at different times and angles. Of course, impulse modelling also allows for early reflections to be created.

Waves Nx

How about head motion though? This is where head tracking technology comes into play. Waves sell a dedicated head tracker but you can use a web camera instead. With it, the plugin can use determine the position of your head and adjust the sound accordingly. Head size should also be input to ensure the best response.

While listening in the Ocean Way Nashville environment, you can make further adjustments. As mentioned before, Waves modelled two different custom monitor setups, HR5 and HR1, allowing users to choose which listening environment they prefer. You can adjust the amount of ambience – essentially how much ‘room’ there is – as well as rotate your virtual head 360 degrees.

Listening Through Nx: Ocean Way Nashville – Open And Airy

The end result of all this technology is a surprisingly realistic depiction of listening in a three-dimensional space. Nx: Ocean Way Nashville imparts a spacious, airy quality to the source material, whether that be a mix or finished track. We tried a number of different songs, from nosebleed techno to dub to country (it is Nashville, after all). Songs with more acoustic qualities seemed to sound even more natural in the Ocean Way Nashville control room, although all the music we auditioned benefitted from the environment.

Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room Plugin

We then tried listening to two of our own productions, one a master and the other a mix in progress. The flaws of the self-mastered track were immediately apparent, while a run-through of the unfinished track in the Nx: Ocean Way Nashville environment immediately helped us see how to improve the EQ balance and spatial imaging.

Immersive experiences are becoming more and more common in entertainment and it’s likely only a matter of time before this approach comes to music-making and mixing as well. Producing music in a virtual environment – both visually and sonically – may soon be the norm. Waves’ Nx: Ocean Way Nashville is at the vanguard of this technology and is an exciting harbinger of things to come.

Find out more at Waves’ site. Nx: Ocean Way Nashville is available now.

Related

Discover how Waves Nx on earbuds with patented Moving Reference headtracking keeps the 3D sound field front-and-centered.

The Genesis of Spatial Audio
Since the advent of recorded sound, playback systems have been evolving towards a more lifelike experience. From early mono, to the invention of multi-channel systems like stereo and surround sound, acoustic scientists have innovated towards reproducing the enveloping quality of sound in the real-world. During the past decade, advancements in virtual reality fueled rapid progress in spatial audio technologies capable of rendering an immersive 3D sound field. In 2014, Waves Audio, the pioneering audio technology company with roots in professional audio invented Nx 3D audio.

Nx Virtual Acoustics
Waves Nx was originally developed to solve a problem for sound professionals. With the rise of the laptop as an all-in-one recording studio, sound engineers and music producers were excited about the prospect of taking their work outside of the studio with headphones. One obstacle remained: while recording studio speakers project an ideal sound field in acoustically designed spaces, conventional headphones produce sound in the non-acoustic space inside of the head. With Nx, Waves invented a sound reproduction system for headphones that uses psychoacoustic science to externalize sound, to produce a speaker-like, expansive 3D listening experience.

Modeling Human Hearing
On Nx, 8 virtual speakers surround the listener. Multi-channel sound, including stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, is “binaurally rendered”, meaning processed and delivered through two channels, into a virtual, precision-tuned listening space defined by a map of room reflections. These reflections are the essence of reverb and cue the mind into perceiving the size and character of a room. But this is just part of the science. Human hearing has evolved over millennia to pick up subtle spectral and temporal differences using the anatomy of the ear, head, and shoulders to localize sound in space. Nx employs models of these human hearing filters for each ear to activate the perception of sound in 3D. In addition to human hearing modeling, another factor is integral to the perception of sound in 3D space: head movement.

The Headtracking X-Factor
In the real-world, as we move our heads in response to a need to localize sound, our human hearing filters continuously adapt to our head and body position to maintain accurate perception of sound positioning. On conventional headphones, head movement while listening to music or a movie, for example, results in the whole sound field moving with the listener. This creates a cognitive disconnect that disables our ability to suspend disbelief and perceive a life-like audio experience. Recognizing the importance of the headtracking factor, Waves made high resolution headtracking integral to the Nx experience. Headtracking anchors the sound field relative to head position.

The Next Level in Spatial Audio Realism
The trifecta of 8-speaker virtual acoustics, human hearing modeling, and headtracking come together to deliver the complete Nx experience. Millions of people have already enjoyed Nx immersion on best-in-class headsets from HyperX, Audeze, and 1More, and rendered through laptop speakers on PCs from Dell. Now, with advancements in headtracking technology from Waves R&D, a whole new Nx experience awaits. The next level in spatial audio realism: Nx for Android mobile devices on earbuds with Moving Reference, dual-sensor headtracking.

Waves Nx Ocean Way

Headtracking is Always Relative
With a mobile device, the simulation of localizing sound in space becomes more complex due to the additional variable of body movement. On headsets, Nx performs headtracking by using data from a single embedded sensor called an inertial measurement unit (IMU). On the IMU, tracking is always relative to a directional reference that determines what is forward. From that “heading reference”, Nx can extrapolate the positioning of the 8 virtual speakers around the listener’s head. The single sensor design is great for listener’s in a fixed position, but if the listener is in motion, like a runner making a turn on a jogging path, the IMU’s heading reference will remain locked even if the listener’s body moves in a new direction.

Piano Moving
Imagine taking a run while enjoying the music of a piano trio on a headset with a single IMU sensor. In a piano trio, the piano is in the center with a violin on the left, and a cello on the right. You decide to take a left turn down a perpendicular pathway. As you make your left turn you find the cello has moved behind you, the piano is now in your right ear, and the violin is centered. This is a perceptual disconnect — the expectation is that the piano should remain centered.

A Piano Trio

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Nx Moving Reference Headtracking
To solve this conundrum, Waves invented and patented a sound field anchoring technology called Moving Reference headtracking. Moving Reference is a patented dual-sensor algorithm through which movement is continuously tracked and calibrated to keep the sound field centered and in front of the listener. The first sensor, embedded on earbuds, tracks head movement across the three axes, yaw, pitch, and roll. Data from a second sensor on a mobile device is used to maintain directional reference, in other words, to tell Nx where the headtracking is relative to forward. The dual sensors enable Nx to distinguish between rotations of the head vs. rotations caused by motion of the listener’s body.

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The Unique Calculation
When the user is inmotion, for example taking a turn while jogging, on a bus turning a corner, or on a banking plane, the Moving Reference headtracking processes the data from both the earbuds and mobile device IMUs to maintain the centered perspective. The second sensor is constantly checking for changes in direction, and when the directional pattern changes, the headtracking is recalibrated. Significantly, the direction the mobile device itself is facing is irrelevant. For example, a smartphone can be placed in the listener’s pocket without influencing the Moving Reference calculation.

The Nx Moving Reference Algorithm

Nx with Moving Reference is Available Today

With Moving Reference headtracking, Waves Nx for Android mobile devices on earbuds allows listeners to suspend disbelief and enjoy a lifelike immersive 3D audio experience even while in motion. Technology demos are available now and the solution is ready for deployment today.

With Moving Reference headtracking, Waves Nx for Android mobile devices on earbuds allows listeners to suspend disbelief and enjoy a lifelike immersive 3D audio experience even while in motion. Technology demos are available now and the solution is ready for deployment today.

With Nx, headtracking puts you exactly in the best seat in the house. Now, the best seat can be anywhere you want to go.

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